How to Choose the Best Climbing Shoes for Beginners

Climbing shoes that fit well are essential for good climbing footwork and climbing technique. Learn the essentials of finding rock climbing shoes that fit the best. Read here our climbing shoes super review.

Properly fitting rock climbing shoes are an absolute essential for developing efficient, effective climbing footwork from the start. Nonetheless, observation at climbing gyms has shown that many beginner-to-intermediate rock climbers are hindering their rock climbing training by climbing in ill-fitting climbing shoes. Here, learn what criteria should go into selecting the proper climbing shoe, including climbing shoe fit, make, and style, and how to purchase the best climbing shoe out there.

How Tight Should Your Shoes Be?

Basically, rock climbing shoes should fit like a glove, with as little dead air space as possible. This means that when wearing climbing shoes, they should not have wrinkles in the leather on the top of the foot, space in the heel, or make sounds of air escaping when a climber walks or climbs. Climbing shoes should fit much more tightly than a street shoe, but should not be excruciatingly painful to wear.

Also note that wearing socks in climbing shoes is not recommended, as this can hamper precise climbing footwork.

Related: Best Women’s Climbing Shoes Review

Climbing Shoes: Lined or Unlined, Thick or Thin Rubber, Velcro or Lace-Up?

Many beginners find it helpful to have the extra support of a lined climbing shoe and/or thicker shoe rubber on the bottom of the shoe. Be aware that lined climbing shoes will, as a rule, not stretch more than half a size, whereas unlined climbing shoes will stretch out much more (often about a size) and in doing so, conform to a climber’s feet. This fact should play a role in deciding which size to go with.

Lace-up climbing shoes tend to be able to be tightened more than Velcro closures and slippers. On the flip side, Velcro closures and slippers make for easier on-and-off between climbs at the gym or between boulder problems when bouldering. If neither of these issues is of great concern, a climber should simply go with the shoes that fit the best.

Visit Climbing/Outdoor Stores to Try on Climbing Shoes

It is highly recommended that before purchasing the first pair of rock climbing shoes (or before buying another pair to replace shoes that don’t fit properly) that the climber should visit several knowledgeable salespersons at several climbing shops. Ask questions and try on all available styles. Test them on the in-store climbing wall, if available. A person can always make a list of his or her top-choice styles and then return home to look for bargains on the Internet.

The Wrong Criteria for Rock Climbing Shoes

Climbing shoes should optimally not be purchased solely for any of the following reasons:

  • Because they’re a great bargain,
  • Because a cool climber in the magazines wears them,
  • Because a store nearby carries them,
  • Because someone else says they’re great,
  • Because a climbing partner at the gym wears them, or
  • Because of their appearance.

Of course, if a climber finds more than one type of climbing shoe that fits properly, then the above criteria can certainly play a role in the decision of which shoes to purchase. These reasons simply should not be the top factors in deciding which climbing shoes to purchase.

The Bottom Line on Climbing Shoes

Buy the rock climbing shoes that fit the best — these are the best climbing shoes available for each person’s own purposes. If a climber finds two pairs of shoes that are equal in fit and performance (or very close), then that person can and should consider other factors such as price, reputation for durability, coolness factor, and so forth. It is worth it to spend more money, if necessary, on well-fitting climbing shoes in order to maximize climbing footwork and get better at rock climbing.